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The Oscars Place Brands on Center Stage

Christopher Johnson, CEO of Branding Firm Whitehorn Group, Shares His Opinion on Why the Oscars May Soon Rival the Super Bowl

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - March 06, 2014) - The Oscars 2014 was memorable given that it clocked 43.7 million viewers, according to ratings from The Nielsen Company. That means that the Ellen DeGeneres-hosted show had the biggest audience of any Academy Awards since the year 2000. Only, the NFL playoff games have been known to attract such a large number of viewers in a single day. Some analysts claim that the huge audience tuned in for the show because of Ellen's dynamic personality. Christopher Johnson, CEO of branding company Whitehorn Group in New York says, "What has become abundantly clear is that in recent years, the Academy Awards are becoming increasingly desirable as a marketing platform for major brands -- perhaps even rivaling the Super Bowl, but with an innovative edge that is less about advertising alone. Intentional or not, Ellen DeGeneres' celeb-studded selfie has become an instant milestone social media moment, and an invaluable Samsung brand moment too."

As Johnson aptly pointed out, if you looked closely at Ellen's selfie moment, you may have noticed that a Samsung Galaxy phone -- and very importantly, not an iPhone -- shot the world's most retweeted photo. Maybe Ellen's own impeccable timing and comedic brilliance spontaneously created that watershed media moment, or just as likely, it was just a brilliantly pre-planned. After all, Samsung was the commercial sponsor of the Academy Awards. Johnson continues, "Truthfully, it doesn't matter if the moment was pre-planned or not because the result was natural and seamless co-branding involving a celebrity, a giant smartphone manufacturer and a respected annual awards event. No longer impossible in today's fast-paced media world."

This forever famous moment certainly helped the company gain more ground in the Apple dominated U.S market. The company's phones, tablets and TVs were also used to make a digital photo display in the backstage of the green room. The selfie stunt will remain legendary since it managed to crash Twitter for over 20 minutes. According to the social media network, 14.7 million tweets mentioning the Oscars or famous stars were sent out and Ellen's tweet was retweeted 2.8 million times so far. Apart from DeGeneres and Cooper, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appeared in the photo's frame.

Pepsi also took advantage of the massive viewership by taking exclusive soft-drink sponsorship of the Oscars this year from Coca-Cola. Johnson says, "Not everything will go as planned, especially on live TV, so it's obvious why PepsiCo may not have enjoyed the appearance of Coke with the pizza Ellen ordered from Big Mama's & Papa's Pizzeria." Thirty minutes after the pizza delivery, Pepsi ran a commercial for Pepsi in mini-cans. The Pepsi commercial performed well in post-broadcast analyses of ad performance by companies like TiVo and Poptip.

Johnson says, "While the clear brand victories were more non-traditional in nature, brands also delivered commercial moments that are memorable too. This is interesting. For the first time it appears that the Super Bowl may not be the only game in town for creating marketing history."

There were three commercials featuring Tina Fey that promoted a new Amex EveryDay credit card. Johnson comments, "The ads stood out because they were filmed in clear black and white. Tina Fey is always a winner in any context."

Johnson says, "J.C. Penney is on a fresh new track and the marketing hit the spot. They ran an ad that seemed to finally reach out to its traditional shoppers during the show." The garments featured in the ad were worn by a variety of models including older full figure women. The century old department-store chain also unveiled a new logo during the show. Johnson concludes, "Now investors will keep their fingers crossed, and time will tell."

Famous fashion brands always catch the spotlight at the Oscars because many world-class designers go to great lengths to dress the celebrities who attend. For instance, rising star Lupita Nyongo continued her stylish winning streak in a fully custom Prada gown and Charlize Theron walked the red carpet in her figure hugging black Dior. Johnson says, "These two stars were among the handful of celebrities that stole the night with their glamorous style featuring the top fashion house brands." It's true that dress watching has now become as important as the awards themselves.

Johnson points out, "Apart from the hijinks and the ads, the other significant development at this year's Oscars was the exceptional and transparent manner in which Hollywood took on social causes." Sunday evening touched upon gay rights many times this year, with Jared Leto winning the best supporting actor for portraying a transgender AIDS patient in "Dallas Buyers Club." The actor's acceptance speech supported the LGBT community with appreciation and dignity. Ellen DeGeneres, who is famously out, was also chosen as the host for the Oscars this year. Johnson says, "Most say that in order to give the people what they want, Hollywood is more of a follower and rarely sets the tone on political or social issues. Fine, that makes sense, so it is nice to see the Oscars kept pace."

Disney found success this year at the Oscars with their latest and highly popular animated princess movie "Frozen." The film's success was a pat on the back for Disney executives who have experienced numerous challenges from the transition to computer-aided filmmaking. For a long time Disney stuck to its traditional story themes while its rivals like Pixar were winning the Academy Awards for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences year after year. Johnson says, "With "Frozen," Disney is clearly back in the lead, updating traditional storylines and embracing new themes that are relevant to Millennials." "Frozen" was named the Best Animated Film and its hit song "Let it Go" won the Best Original Song Oscar.

Clearly the Oscars have become an event to watch, not only for the celebrities, glamour and the awards themselves -- but also, just like the Super Bowl, for the increasingly sophisticated techniques brands employ to reach their targets. Johnson finishes, "As a branding professional, this year's Oscars were exciting to watch. New ground was broken in an enjoyable and unobtrusive way. While everyday occurrences like pizza and selfies are hardly original, watching superstar celebrities partake during a formal and glamorous event was -- and was not only highly original but also genuinely endearing. A win all around for all involved so I'm certain that many will be taking notes."

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of branding firm Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on creating and managing celebrity and consumer brands, like Infiniti Motor Company and JetBlue Airways. He attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize. He can be reached at (212) 537-9129, [email protected] or on Twitter, @Chris4Whitehorn.

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn is a premier brand strategy firm. They create what's NEW and NEXT through global branding, design, product innovation, political and celebrity brands, business strategy, global marketing and distribution.

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